An Unbroken Thread: African American Exclusion from Jury Service, Past and Present
25 Pages Posted: 18 Aug 2020 Last revised: 19 Jan 2021
Date Written: March 11, 2020
The right to an impartial jury and the right to serve on a jury are defining aspects of the American legal system. However, this nation has yet to fully make good on these guarantees to African Americans. Black people are routinely underrepresented in jury pools and Black defendants often face juries that fail to reflect the communities in which they are prosecuted. Despite laws prohibiting racial discrimination in jury selection and legislation to improve jury representation, the under-representation of Black people on juries persists.
This article draws an unbroken thread from the history of total exclusion of Black people from juries to the contemporary under-representation of Black people in jury pools. Historically, the framers excluded Black people from citizenship, and by extension from serving on juries. Although the Reconstruction Amendments extended citizenship rights to African Americans, racially neutral, but vague juror qualifications enabled state officials to continue excluding Black people from juries well into the Twentieth Century. Today, felony disenfranchisement prevents millions of Americans from being eligible to serve on juries, including a disproportionate number of African Americans.
This article argues that policies to increase racial diversity on juries must account for the centuries’ long exclusion of Black people. Such reforms must be large scale and transformational, addressing juror eligibility standards, fair cross section jurisprudence, and policies governing juror summons. Only then can America’s promise to Black people of an impartial jury selected free from racial discrimination be recognized.
Keywords: Racial Discrimination, Jury Selection, Fair Cross Section, Disenfranchisement, Impartial Jury
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